Trump is parroting Vladimir Putin's talking points as he defends pulling US troops from Syria

donald trumpPresident Donald Trump talks with reporters after receiving a briefing on Hurricane Dorian in the Oval Office of the White House, Wednesday, Sept. 4, 2019, in Washington.Associated Press/Evan Vucci

  • President Donald Trump has been embroiled in a firestorm of controversy in Washington over his decision last week to abruptly yank out US troops from northern Syria.
  • In a White House press conference Tuesday, many of his arguments mirrored talking points delivered by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
  • "The PKK ... is probably worse at terror and more of a terrorist threat in many ways than ISIS," Trump said, referring to a separatist militia Turkey has long treated as a threat to its national security.
  • Republicans and Democrats roundly criticized the withdrawal from northern Syria as disastrous for US interests, allowing Russia and Syria to fill a vacuum and handing them a victory in the Syrian Civil War.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

President Donald Trump has been embroiled in a firestorm of controversy in Washington over his decision last week to abruptly yank US troops from northern Syria. It paved the way for a Turkish military operation against the Kurds, a critical ally in the US-led war against the Islamic State - and was widely seen as abandoning them.

Trump defended his decision on Wednesday at a White House press conference alongside the visiting Italian President Sergio Mattarella. But many of Trump's arguments mirrored talking points delivered by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.

Read more: Trump defends his Syria retreat as 'strategically brilliant,' saying the Kurds are 'not angels' and have 'a lot of sand that they can play with'

"The PKK ... is probably worse at terror and more of a terrorist threat in many ways than ISIS," Trump said, referring to a separatist militia Turkey has long treated as a threat to its national security. He later asserted the Kurds freed ISIS detainees to create trouble for him.

Then Trump also said that Russia and Syria both "hate" ISIS, even though both nations have focused the vast majority of their military campaigns to quell the uprising against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

"Every player hates ISIS. Everybody we're talking about. Syria more than us. Russia more than us. They've done a big number on Russia," Trump said.

His remarks represent another stunning use of language drawn from authoritarian leaders to defend his actions.

Republicans and Democrats roundly criticized the withdrawal from northern Syria as disastrous for US interests, allowing Russia and Syria to fill a vacuum and handing them a victory in the Syrian Civil War. One of Syria's main backers, Iran, also benefited from Trump's abrupt decision.

Read more: Trump's coziness with authoritarians is backfiring spectacularly in Syria

National security experts were bewildered and blasted Trump's statements.

"This is among the most dishonest, craven statements ever from Trump - to justify his total sell-out to ISIS, Putin, Assad and Erdogan," the former Obama administration United Nations ambassador and national security advisor Susan Rice said in a tweet. "What did Trump get in exchange for sacrificing our national security?"

Trump has tried distancing the US from the bloodshed in Syria, chalking it up to a messy foreign war the US can ill afford to be drawn into. At the same press conference, Trump said the battle between Kurdish forces and the Turkish military had "nothing to do with us," The New York Times reported. Turkey rejected calls to end hostilities.

The sudden US pullout has been particularly chaotic. Brett McGurk, Trump's former presidential envoy for the US-led coalition against ISIS, said in a tweet: "US personnel have been scrambling to evacuate positions surrounded by hostile Turkish-backed opposition forces. They are evacuating under duress and then bombing positions so nobody can seize them."

Trump's decision brought with it significant consequences, with reports of Turkish-led Arab fighters executing Kurdish prisoners and US forces being fired upon. The renewed fighting has also displaced over 100,000 people within northern Syria.

"The cost of allying with autocrats like Erdogan and Putin has never been clearer, especially when American troops are caught in the crossfire," Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a historian at New York University specializing in authoritarianism, previously told Insider.

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